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#5505289 - 12/28/14 08:52 PM See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue.
Huntin & Fishin Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 09/13/11
Posts: 82

The current drought over the past several years has taken its toll on the overall deer population in Texas as well as on the 11 thousand ac. West Texas ranch I hunt.

Our helicopter survey from last February 2014 indicated the deer population was lower than past helicopter surveys.

We flew the ranch again 8 months later in October, and population numbers were lower than expected.

The typical deer per ac is, 1 deer per 17ac and with prime range condition it can be as high as 1 deer per 12 ac.

The 2 years prior to 2014 we intentionally tried to over harvested the herd to lower the deer population to provide additional browse for the lucky ones who would survive these drought conditions. Also we know what has happened in past droughts and were willing to harvest per the biologist recommendations.

These helicopter survey numbers are trends and do not reflect the true deer population on the ranch, only a percentage of the deer population.

Here is just a quick look at the herd decline over a very short period, from February to October 2014.

11,000+ acres helicopter survey.
February ='s 1st number. October ='s 2nd number.

Bucks 32 23
Doe 154 70
Fawns 23 37
Pigs 41 17
Coyotes 7 9

Keep in mind a helicopter survey only sees a percentage of the deer herd and these numbers are used only for a trend but, the decline percentage is close to what we have observed on our camera surveys, our observation logs and in our spotlight surveys.

The hardest hit was the mature and past mature deer.

So what does all this mean?

We need rains in a bad way.

It will take years for the range and herd to recover. Just think ahead a bit, 5 to 7 years down the road. Currently there is a smaller percentage of bucks being born and even a smaller percentage of those bucks will survive to be in that 5 to 7 year old age class.

So if your not having your normal year deer hunting and sightings are lower than the norm for your ranch, you not alone.

Something to think about.

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#5505334 - 12/28/14 09:09 PM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
stxranchman Offline
Obie Juan Kenobi

Registered: 08/04/10
Posts: 52092
I have never put much faith in a helicopter survey. You can get a varied count from one day to the next on the same ranch just depending on how the deer react that day to the helicopter. I have flown a ranch and killed more deer in hunting season than I saw from the air each of the 2 years in a row. By the trends I should have been out of deer. I flew the ranch the same time each year. I compared feed records to blind counts also. Used TC to count bucks and blind counts to set ratios. Those were much more accurate than helicopter surveys for me.
I have been on a ranch that was surveyed by 3 different methods and got 3 different density numbers with each survey count. The closest one to being accurate was the last method(walking line) and it was almost triple the amount of deer that either the helicopter or spotlight counts showed. This ranch had been harvesting deer based off of a spotlight count for 5 yrs and trend data showed the population to be stable.
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#5505354 - 12/28/14 09:22 PM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: stxranchman]
Huntin & Fishin Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 09/13/11
Posts: 82
Originally Posted By: stxranchman
I have never put much faith in a helicopter survey. You can get a varied count from one day to the next on the same ranch just depending on how the deer react that day to the helicopter. I have flown a ranch and killed more deer in hunting season than I saw from the air each of the 2 years in a row. By the trends I should have been out of deer. I flew the ranch the same time each year. I compared feed records to blind counts also. Used TC to count bucks and blind counts to set ratios. Those were much more accurate than helicopter surveys for me.
I have been on a ranch that was surveyed by 3 different methods and got 3 different density numbers with each survey count. The closest one to being accurate was the last method(walking line) and it was almost triple the amount of deer that either the helicopter or spotlight counts showed. This ranch had been harvesting deer based off of a spotlight count for 5 yrs and trend data showed the population to be stable.


I agree 100% with you, as I stated above. It's just a quick look at the trend.

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#5505412 - 12/28/14 09:45 PM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
stxranchman Offline
Obie Juan Kenobi

Registered: 08/04/10
Posts: 52092
I agree with you but I still would not trust the trend data from what I see in your count above. You had the deer in late winter. Based on fawn crop numbers at that time vs the fall you had some rainfall due to high % of fawn. My guess is the deer were still all there just hid better in the fall foliage and canopy.
In the count I posted above on, that was the first year no the ranch and after a 3 yr bad drought. No tank runoff and very little well water on 5100 acres. It was LF till one month before survey. It started raining when they started the HF and continued for the next year. We had feed and water that others did not till it started to rain. I saw just over 100 does, 78 bucks and 40+ fawns that first survey. We killed 100 does and 75 bucks. The next year was drier in the fall and when I flew it I saw upper 40's on bucks and just over 40 does with 20+ fawns. We killed 100 more does and 85 bucks that season. The next year when I flew it I saw just over 70 does and just over 40 bucks. We killed 38 does and 58 bucks. The next 2 years were back in a drought. They did not shoot many deer that first year and the next year they were going through a semi load of feed a month for a while. I always wondered just how bad it had been if we only had killed deer based solely off the survey.
I also saw bucks the first year from the air that I never got on TC or saw from the ground while hunting. Same for bucks I saw from the ground that never were seen on TC or from the air. I saw very few mature bucks the first year from the air and we killed 25 or so as management/culls and left a lot that were good quality bucks. I flew the ranch next door the same day as I flew this ranch. The deer numbers and trends I saw on it were the same as the ranch I was on. It had a very high deer density also and the last year I flew the ranch I saw very few deer at all from the air that last year. I had hunted that ranch in the past for 5 yrs and thought they should have had a deer to 10 acres or so on 5800 acres. They would never harvest enough does or bucks each year. I spent 1.5 hours flying/looking for one buck that they had seen on TC cams after I flew the whole ranch on the survey. They had hunted him for 28 days and never seen him. I did no see him. They killed him the next morning in the area I flew for 1.5 hours. Here is a pic of him. He would have been easy to spot from the air I would think. I had seen him the year before on the survey.


I would just not put all my faith in one survey method. If it were me I would use as many types as I could.
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#5505459 - 12/28/14 10:03 PM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
Huntin & Fishin Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 09/13/11
Posts: 82

Keep in mind a helicopter survey only sees a percentage of the deer herd and these numbers are used only for a trend but, the decline percentage is close to what we have observed on our camera surveys, our observation logs and in our spotlight surveys.

Trust me, I do understand.

And if you find out a way to figure out the ture population numbers, let me know.

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#5505509 - 12/28/14 10:28 PM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
stxranchman Offline
Obie Juan Kenobi

Registered: 08/04/10
Posts: 52092
I understand that you only see a % on any survey and have always taken that into account. Helicopter is the worst method to use followed by spotlight IME. I estimated I saw 40% of the deer on that one ranch with the helicopter. We set harvest numbers based off of what I thought the population was from TC and blind counts. The ranch that was way off(it was in the Hill Country) in the 3 survey method was only 23-25% accurate on what they saw from air vs the actual numbers(120+ vs 400+ IIRC). The most accurate I have found is using TC to inventory every buck then using incidental and blind counts for ratios and fawn crops. Once you have a minimum number of bucks then use the ratio and fawn numbers to run a minimum for total ranch. Then in the years after used the surveys for trend data like you. I then will take those numbers vs feed consumption to see if one or both are accurate.
I will throw this out as food for thought. I hunt on 70,000 acres in the Trans Pecos. We have been there for 8 years now. It is almost 100% Mule Deer only. We all know that Mule Deer will move to areas that get more rain and move a good distance. This year we had a buck killed that was 3.7 miles east of where I took photos of him the year before. Not that far in Mule Deer standards. Every year we look and then discuss our fawn crop numbers. 1st year it was very high. Second and third year we only saw one fawn total for both years. Fourth year was a very wet year and good fawn crop. Fifth year was a horrible drought with very few fawns seen again. The sixth and seventh year were good fawn crop years and this year was good in areas but not others. But deer sightings were down in most areas. Every year since the 1st year we have seen good to high numbers of yearling bucks but yet we see no fawns. We have only taken around 30-35 bucks total off of the ranch in 8 yrs. So we should have high buck numbers and high numbers of mature bucks. But yet our trend is downward on all. The drought and what we think are light fawn crops should be leaving voids. Yet we will see a buck 1-3 yrs after the first sighting and maybe never again. Some bucks we see year after year and others only once.
Now throw in Whitetails. There was one buck seen the second year in the middle. A group of 8-9 does were seen up in the NE corner next to farmland. I saw one WT buck the fifth year in the drought on the west side the ranch 7 miles from the farmland. The group of does was never seen again. We think the drought wiped them out possibly. Last year we saw one buck 10 miles to the SW of the farmland fighting with a MD buck and chasing MD does. This year we saw 2 bucks in that same area with one heading NE and one SW. Then 2 more WT bucks were seen within 1/2 mile of the farmland. No does. One of the bucks that I saw 10 miles the SW from the farmland and was moving from west to NE at a trot in the direction of the farmland when I saw him last. There is farmland about 5 miles to the south of that area along a major drainage. If that buck moved from one farmland to the other it was 15 miles straightline. If he followed that drainage it was closer to 17-18 miles. No does have ever been seen on the ranch by the hunters and only in pasture by the cattle guy.
So do you think it is possible your whitetails could have moved off? Not all of them but some of the more mature animals that have done this in the past during droughts. I am not sure how far the whitetails we are seeing are moving from to get onto the ranch. They are always chasing Mule Deer does when they are seen or traveling. Same travel patterns. Also do you feed? We do not. We do have a great watering system on the ranch. After seeing WT bucks moving on our lease I am not sure just how far a WT will go during rut out west. If they are moving that far for the rut will they move that far for greener pastures where it has rained? Points to ponder.
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#5505585 - 12/28/14 11:34 PM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
Huntin & Fishin Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 09/13/11
Posts: 82
Our range condition is above average considering the drought conditions and our past harvest record has (IMO) helped the range. We do feed protein and corn year around.

Migration is the way I describe it, late season year after year we see large influence of deer that migrate to our wheat fields, how far they have traveled to get to a food source is unknown. I do know the far side of the ranch without wheat will almost be void of deer, when the weather gets bad and if the forage is knock back enough. It's not uncommon to see a large herd of deer feeding all day long in the wheat fields late in the year. I have killed bucks 5+ miles from their normal known core area in late season. Migration I do understand and I do witness it every year.

We count or bucks on the TC survey while they are in bachelor groups and feel we get a good base line, it isn't an accurate method of counting fawns at this time though. We have hogs and all of our feeders have pens, doe hide the fawns before jumping into the pens and we rarely see fawns on TC at feeders until later in the season. We mostly rely on Observation Logs for fawn counts.

The point I was trying to make with my original post was, regardless of your Best Management Practices..... Nature will take it course.

Some of the stuff you have described, almost sounds like we're hunting on the same ground! Ha. Good luck to ya.

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#5505588 - 12/28/14 11:41 PM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
Huntin & Fishin Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 09/13/11
Posts: 82
I would like to learn more about food consumption though.

1st I better figure out how much a single coon can eat! I dam sure haven't been able to put a dent in their numbers. They are just like hogs, they keep coming.

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#5505664 - 12/29/14 05:58 AM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
8pointdrop Offline
Extreme Tracker

Registered: 12/16/11
Posts: 4713
Loc: My favorite place TEXAS
Why I troll this forum, really good discussion with great info. up

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#5505676 - 12/29/14 06:21 AM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
stxranchman Offline
Obie Juan Kenobi

Registered: 08/04/10
Posts: 52092
H&F how many years have you hunted this ranch. How many times has it been flown? Did you get the fall rains this year? How do you blind counts compare to the helicopter and the spotlight counts on numbers, ratio and age classes(bucks)?
Feed consumption takes about 4-5 yrs of feeding to get a handle on the consumption. This allows fawns born the first year to get to be 4 yrs and raised on feed. They will be larger bodied than the previous deer on the ranch at that same age and will eat more feed due to being larger bodied. I used a TC to inventory bucks for a total minimum number. When I knew what the buck to doe ratio was I could take that total number of deer and divide it into the daily or monthly feed usage. That would give a lbs/hd/day number. It is more accurate on year round feeding than seasonal. It also allows you to see the effects of rainfall on the range. Most places with good habitat and ratios will find about 1.5 lbs/hd/day or in that range. In drier or wetter times you should see it go up or down. You can also see when fawns start to eat in the fall or winter by the consumption rates going(depending on fawning dates and starting of the rut).
Not 100% accurate but it is good to use to compare to all of the other survey methods you use. After a while on some ranches it can become very accurate and others not as good.
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#5505721 - 12/29/14 07:12 AM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
Ketchn Offline
Woodsman

Registered: 12/19/07
Posts: 124
interesting information to say the least , although I have not seen a trend towards less deer in the area I hunt, that said I am sure range conditions in some parts of texas have reduced overall numbers of wildlife in general. I do know for some reason there are less squirrels and turkey than there was in the past on the place I currently hunt . my thoughts on that lean towards predation by bobcats though and not the current rainfall amounts, in the end we need more rain for sure though to replenish the land and watersheds .

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#5505847 - 12/29/14 08:39 AM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
Huntin & Fishin Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 09/13/11
Posts: 82
26 years and MLD as long as I can remember.

Flown 4 times for deer survey, 3 times for Wounded Warriors Hog Hunts. Only 1 mature buck was reported in the October helicopter survey. I have TC pictures with 16 bucks at one feeder with 8 being over 4.5yo. (I get it.)

We did get little rains all year long and the range responded, it can be seen in the helicopter survey fawn counts as well as our TC's and Observation Logs fawn counts.

We are on the same page as far survey methods, some years spot light survey we will see 6 deer on our route and 32 deer has been the largest number seen on a spotlight survey.
Spotlight survey is a joke, doesn't work due to the thick brush but, it currently is a requirement.

Thanks for the consumption info.

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#5505947 - 12/29/14 09:23 AM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
stxranchman Offline
Obie Juan Kenobi

Registered: 08/04/10
Posts: 52092
Originally Posted By: Huntin & Fishin
26 years and MLD as long as I can remember.

Flown 4 times for deer survey, 3 times for Wounded Warriors Hog Hunts. Only 1 mature buck was reported in the October helicopter survey. I have TC pictures with 16 bucks at one feeder with 8 being over 4.5yo. (I get it.)

We did get little rains all year long and the range responded, it can be seen in the helicopter survey fawn counts as well as our TC's and Observation Logs fawn counts.

We are on the same page as far survey methods, some years spot light survey we will see 6 deer on our route and 32 deer has been the largest number seen on a spotlight survey.
Spotlight survey is a joke, doesn't work due to the thick brush but, it currently is a requirement.

Thanks for the consumption info.



Rain all year to me equates to more canopy. Helicopter hog hunts to me means lots of flying pressure and shooting which could be a red flag for less mature deer sighting after those. Canopy this fall should have made it tougher to see deer with that rainfall vs flying late winter. Flying in Feb is 30+ days post rut to me that would red flag not getting as many bucks up and moving when flying. Tired from the rut and if it was 30+ day post rut they are not needing/wanting to move much. Body size will be rutted down on bucks also and could make them appear younger.
Were all of the 4 surveys flown in back to back years? If so what was the trend from start to last one? How many deer were shot each year in those survey years? Did the data reflect those harvest numbers? With 11,000 acres and a deer to 17 that is a lot deer to shoot just to maintain. What do you think your buck to doe ratio is now vs before this drought from your surveys? Do you feed protein free choice year round? How long have you fed protein? How do your fawn crop % compare before protein to now when feeding? What fawn crop % are you trying to maintain year in and year out? What buck to doe ratio? What type of livestock grazing on the ranch? How is the watering system on the ranch today?
I have friends who have told me that they experience varying counts when they have been doing helicopter surveys for many years. I know from personal experience on a ranch where we moved in 25 TTT does that were tagged. One escaped onto neighbors and one died leaving 23 that were all seen TC cams that summer and fall. Thick typical South Texas brush on the ranch. When it was flown only around 40% of those TTT does were seen 2 yrs in a row. 14 would eat out of one protein feeder and not all of that group was seen. Same experience with DMP does and bucks that were ear tagged and put in DMP pens then released back onto ranch. Small % of those deer were seen from the air when flying.
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#5506111 - 12/29/14 10:34 AM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
Huntin & Fishin Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 09/13/11
Posts: 82
Rain all year to me equates to more canopy. (And taller grasses) Helicopter hog hunts to me means lots of flying pressure and shooting which could be a red flag for less mature deer sighting after those. (Hog hunts were in prior years) Canopy this fall should have made it tougher to see deer with that rainfall vs flying late winter. Flying in Feb is 30+ days post rut to me that would red flag not getting as many bucks up and moving when flying. Tired from the rut and if it was 30+ day post rut they are not needing/wanting to move much. Body size will be rutted down on bucks also and could make them appear younger.(agreed, additional flying survey was intended to gain more MLD permits)
Were all of the 4 surveys flown in back to back years? (hasn't been flown for deer survey in 10 years) If so what was the trend from start to last one? How many deer were shot each year in those survey years? Did the data reflect those harvest numbers? With 11,000 acres and a deer to 17 that is a lot deer to shoot just to maintain. What do you think your buck to doe ratio is now vs before this drought from your surveys? (We try to maintain 3 doe to 1 buck) Do you feed protein free choice year round? (Yes, as much as we can afford) How long have you fed protein? (12 years) How do your fawn crop % compare before protein to now when feeding? What fawn crop % are you trying to maintain year in and year out? (That's a tuff one, rain fall and coyotes seem to control that, regardless of what our management goals are) What buck to doe ratio? What type of livestock grazing on the ranch? (only cattle)
How is the watering system on the ranch today?(tanks are at a all time low, lost 6, all 6 were dug out and now have water. Water is above average in all pastures)
I have friends who have told me that they experience varying counts when they have been doing helicopter surveys for many years. I know from personal experience on a ranch where we moved in 25 TTT does that were tagged. One escaped onto neighbors and one died leaving 23 that were all seen TC cams that summer and fall. Thick typical South Texas brush on the ranch. When it was flown only around 40% of those TTT does were seen 2 yrs in a row. 14 would eat out of one protein feeder and not all of that group was seen. Same experience with DMP does and bucks that were ear tagged and put in DMP pens then released back onto ranch. Small % of those deer were seen from the air when flying.

Like my thread states "See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue"

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#5506175 - 12/29/14 10:56 AM Re: See if this will ease your pain or just confuse the issue. [Re: Huntin & Fishin]
stxranchman Offline
Obie Juan Kenobi

Registered: 08/04/10
Posts: 52092
Nah...just makes for good thought and discussions. Would take the fun out of hunting and managing deer if we had all the answers cheers
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